Writing is a very different gig. In most jobs, we don’t need years of external validation to prove what we “really” are. We don’t have to save so many lives before we are a “real” doctor” or close so many mortgages before we are a “real” banker. But with writing? With the arts? We struggle. When are we “really real”?
For the answer to this question, I advise, Don’t Eat the Butt!
A lot of us want that traditional publishing stamp of approval, but there are a lot of recent red flags in the industry that demonstrate this might not be the best path for those of us who want a long-term career. Traditional publishing is also very slow, and there are huge gaps they cannot fill. For instance, technology.
When I was at Thrillerfest, one of the old guard teaching a class announced that, “Self-publishing was only good if you were a breast-feeding truck-driver who wanted to write a book for breast-feeding truck-drivers.” I have zero clue what is meant by that statement, but the comment speaks volumes, and highlights a problem in the industry.
Writers, for some reason, seem to be at the bottom of the food chain. We are the ones who produce the product, yet we are the last to get paid and seem to be treated the worst. It seems any 24 year old with a degree from NYU can hang up a shingle and call herself a literary agent and suddenly she is “real.” Author Joe Konrath has talked about this problem at length on his blog, which I highly recommend.
Yet, even after two #1 best-selling books, I still cannot get Barnes & Noble to shelve my books, because I am not a “real” writer. B&N literally has turned customers away trying to order my books in the store and they will only sell my books on-line. My books are returnable, so there shouldn’t be a problem, yet conference after conference I have to lug in a suitcase of my books because B&N won’t stock them, even though my books almost always sell out.
*shrugs* More money for me. And I am supposed to feel sorry for booksellers who are suffering. Yeah, I’ll get right on that.
I was even invited to speak at a conference and then, after my classes, they refused let me sell my books inside with the other authors. I had to go out into 112 degree heat to sell social media books in the parking lot because I wasn’t a “real” writer.
So I can appreciate the feeling of wanting and needing validation.
What I love about the new paradigm is that it seems to be finally earning writers the respect they should have had all along. I know back when I was querying, I felt agents were gods who stepped down from Mt. Olympus to see if they could find a champion among the unwashed masses. I so wanted to prove I was the one who could bring home the
golden fleece best-selling numbers.
I recall typing my queries, hands shaking. One time, I was so nervous I misspelled “query” in the header of the e-mail and was instantly rejected. Though agents have demanded perfection and professionalism from me, I have received rejection letters with typos, my name misspelled and even the wrong name. I have received form-letters and sticky notes. We aren’t supposed to send a mass-query, yet I have received many a mass-rejection.
And I am not here to gripe about how I am being mistreated, because I really don’t care about anyone’s behavior other than my own. But this does raise an important point.
As the industry shifts and writers gain more power, will the industry as a whole benefit?
As more and more self-published and indie authors start earning a really good living, will we still get those “self-publishing is only for freaks” comments? As writers band together and blog and build platforms capable of driving sales, we become more powerful. Will this then force agents and editors to behave better?
Are we part of the
women’s writer’s liberation movement?
I have been to conferences where agents didn’t want to take pitches or would walk off in the middle of a writer talking. I know I had an agent I finally had to fire because she just never returned e-mails. Finally, after six months without a peep I assumed my agent was dead or had been abducted by aliens. But I posit this question.
Would an agent stand for a writer who didn’t return an e-mail for six months?
As a social media person, I’ve witnessed agents tweeting lines from rejected queries, openly making fun of writers. Yet, when they google a writer to represent, what do they demand? Professional behavior. What if we were tweeting and making fun of literary agents?
Make no mistake, I feel we as writers need to come up higher as professionals and set the example. Frankly, as NYTBSA Bob Mayer has stated, “Writers are in the entertainment business.” Yes we are artists (entertainment), but we are also in business. It is incumbent upon us to know our craft. We cannot assume that command of our native tongue qualifies us to be best-selling authors, and we also need to understand our industry and business.
And here is where I feel self-publishing has greatly benefitted writer-kind.
I feel that self-publishing, oddly enough, has been a massive benefit to all writers. Why?
It has forced writers to understand the business side of the business.
I feel it has helped many writers embrace this business side of the equation and step up their game as professionals. Writers who are pursuing or even considering going it alone suddenly take social media and platform-building far more seriously. There is something transformative about finishing the story, then digging in to create the product. Many self-published authors understand the new publishing paradigm better than the Big Six editors, and I feel this is a real advantage.
Many of us have learned about web sites, accounting, formatting, and even cover design. The new publishing paradigm is constantly changing and forcing us to learn, grow, adapt, change, and ship.
The new paradigm forces writers to ship.
If you read Seth Godin’s Linchpin (which I highly recommend), he says one of the marks of a true artist is real artists ship. We let go. We sell the painting, burn the CD or publish the book and then move on to the next. Saturday Night Live happens no matter what. Good or bad, they ship.
One of the biggest problems I have seen with writers is they keep working and reworking and reworking the first book. In the new paradigm? They publish. If it is a super stinker they pull it and pray people forget. If it’s so-so, they leave it, but best of all, if they are smart, they move on and write more books. One of the largest barriers to becoming a successful writer is trying to be a perfect writer. The new paradigm gives new writers a way to ship so they can move forward and write more books and better books.
It has encouraged writers to become empowered by building a platform.
Also, since there have been some real successes from the indie and self-pub fronts, it has forced traditional authors to realize how social media can give them control of their careers. As traditional authors build viable platforms, they suddenly have options. Many are realizing that NY is no longer the only road to Rome and they have the power to walk away (Barry Eisler).
Social media and self-publishing has given authors bargaining power and, with that, respect.
True story. A friend of mine couldn’t get an agent to even listen to a pitch (and the same agent had been a real toad to me). My friend self-published and was doing really well. Next conference? This agent wanted to represent him. Suddenly thought his books were awesome and brilliant. My friend comes to me and says, “There is no way I can go traditional. I make way too much money.” Then he asks me, “You think I should e-mail him a rejection letter?”
The story makes me chuckle, but it is just proof of what I have been saying all along. It is a WONDERFUL time to be a writer.
Writers are no longer satisfied with being publishing fodder. We are stepping up and demanding the respect we are owed. Now? Agents. We are googling you. We are watching what you are tweeting and we are reading your blogs. We are not expecting anything from you that you aren’t expecting of us—professionalism and respect.
It is a wonderful time to be a writer. No matter what road writers now choose to take, traditional, self-pub or indie, I feel writers will finally enjoy the success and the esteem they deserve.
Welcome to the revolution!
So what are your thoughts? Opinions? Are you happy that writers now have more options? Do you feel overwhelmed? Excited? For those of you who have gone indie or self-published, what are the greatest lessons you have learned?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
***Changing the contest.
It is a lot of work to pick the winners each week. Not that you guys aren’t totally worth it, but with the launch of WANA International and WANATribe I need to streamline. So I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners will now have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.